It’s often said that waste is simply a resource out of place. That’s the idea behind investments we have made in the last decade in companies focused on transforming certain materials in the waste stream into materials of higher value. As these relationships have matured, we have already begun to see opportunities to increase our environmental impact through expanding into broader markets.
Enerkem converts nonrecyclable municipal solid waste (MSW) into biofuels for transportation and renewable chemicals used in everyday products. Enerkem Alberta Biofuels is the world’s first commercial biorefinery to use MSW to produce methanol and ethanol. This facility in Edmonton, Canada, began producing methanol from waste in 2015 and has now initiated ethanol production. The potential annual output of the facility is 10 million gallons.
In 2017, Enerkem received EPA registration for the Edmonton facility to sell ethanol under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard, becoming the first MSW-to-ethanol facility to do so. Additionally, the facility received the lowest carbon intensity value issued to date by the British Columbia Ministry of Energy and Mines under the Renewable and Low Carbon Fuel Requirements Regulation.
Enerkem also recently signed an agreement with Air Liquide, AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals and the Port of Rotterdam to create an advanced waste-to-chemistry facility in Rotterdam. The facility will be the first of its kind in Europe to provide a sustainable alternative solution for nonrecyclable wastes, converting waste plastics and other mixed wastes into methanol for transportation and chemical uses. The company is developing additional projects in Canada, the United States, Europe and China.
Another source of innovation today is Waste Management Dolphin Services, a leader in dewatering solutions across numerous industries. The Waste Management division has introduced modern, skid-mounted, high-g decanter centrifuge technology for processing industrial sludges and recovering oils from refineries, chemical complexes and food processing operations. This process significantly reduces solids going to landfills, returns water for reuse and recovers oil for recycling. In addition, Waste Management Dolphin Services is piloting autonomous centrifuge dewatering and oil recovery technology for waste streams such as biological sludge and oily tank bottoms to reduce on-site safety risks and exposure.
Since 2009, Waste Management has been an investor in Bigbelly — the world’s leading smart waste and recycling system. Deployed in communities, campuses and organizations in over 50 countries and all 50 U.S. states, Bigbelly transforms waste operations and drives efficiencies with a smart, connected system. Solar panels on high-capacity cans harvest energy for compaction and communication. Each can holds 150 gallons, five times that of the average receptacle, because waste contents are compressed as the container fills. Bigbelly enables visibly sustainable operations, measurable recycling and contained waste for cleaner public spaces.
Bigbelly helps cities enhance their public spaces by extending their smart bins into multipurpose platforms capable of hosting telecom equipment. Communities and solution providers share the challenge of how and where to deploy wireless equipment in the public right-of-way without additional clutter or negative aesthetic impact. Bigbelly enables communities to transform multiple core city services with a single infrastructure — waste management and wireless connectivity — during the pivotal 5G network roll out. The platform hides small cell equipment in plain sight, in an aesthetically accepted form, and exactly where the people are.
An important element of innovation is research — who‘s developing what, what’s working and what isn’t, and where’s the next innovation with potential for commercial success. Waste Management is a Limited Partner (LP) investor in three funds: EnerTech Capital Partners (“EnerTech Capital Partners IV”), Emerald Technology Ventures (“Emerald Industrial Innovation Fund”) and Zouk Capital (“Zouk Renewable Energy and Environmental Infrastructure Fund II”).